Michael Beck: Why labelling men who kill as ‘non-violent’ is irresponsible journalism

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 09.06.42Every single week, 2 men in England and Wales make a choice to kill their current or former partner. Despite the fact that these men consistently have a history of domestic violence, the media insists on reporting comments from random neighbours claiming that these men are ‘caring fathers‘, ‘loving brothers’, ‘quiet neighbours’,  and, as above, ‘non violent’. Men who choose to kill are violent. It’s pretty much the definition of the word since murder is an inherently violent act. As a culture, we refuse to recognise that coercive control is a choice made by men who believe they are entitled to own women and children, and that men who kill are not aberrations, but representative of the consequences of patriarchy.

The Guardian’s coverage of the murder of Nicola Beck by her husband Michael Beck is a quintessential example of how not write about male violence. It insinuates that Nicola’s request for a divorce was irrational because Michael did want it and, therefore, Michael’s choice to murder was rational. They quote Michael’s brother-in-law Hugo Peel who said this at the inquest:

” … Beck was a gentle man. …He had a sort of hope in his heart that he could repair the damage. He was not a violent man, quite the opposite. … He was not courageous in social interaction or dealing with issues. He would walk away from confrontation, he felt unequipped to deal with confrontation.”

Family members and neighbours frequently do not see the violence women are forced to live with. Perpetrators tend to be highly manipulative and very careful with their behaviour around other people. It’s not at all uncommon for close family members and friends to have no idea just how violent a man is. Publishing these types of quotes without making the context of how perpetrators operate clear obscures and elides the reality of male violence against women and children. This is particularly important in the context of Peel suggesting Michael was incapable of dealing with confrontation as it implies, once again, that Michael had no choice; that he lacked the skills to recognise Nicola as a person and so was forced to kill her. It is utterly irresponsible for The Guardian to have published this statement.

The most dangerous time for a woman who has an abusive and controlling partner is when she tries to end the relationship. The risk of physical and sexual violence increases and this is the point when women are most likely to be murdered, frequently with their children, or when children are murdered to punish their mother. It should go without saying that a neighbour, whose entire relationship with a perpetrator is saying hello when putting out the rubbish for collection, or a family member who has not witnessed violence or controlling behaviour themselves, are not in a position to make evidenced judgments about whether or not a man is gentle, good, or kind. Media who report these types of statements are engaged in bad journalism completely lacking in research or reality.

This is a copy of Michael’s suicide as it was published in The Sun (who themselves concentrated on the Beck’s financial status rather than the murder, because it’s more important to note that Michael was rich rather than recognising the life of Nicola). Generally, we do not support the publishing of suicide letters. We have made an exception in this case because the letter is not only a suicide letter but a defence of murder.

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The Sun’s coverage is as senstionalist as one expects of the tabloid press. The Guardian uses less emotive language, but it also glosses over the evidence of Beck’s clear history of entitlement and financial control as written in his suicide note:

“I have spent my entire life fighting over money”

Yes, Michael was a stockbroker, but this quote is in relation to his marriage and not his career. It is not normal to spend one’s life “fighting over money”. The Guardian do quote the assistant Devon coroner, Lydia Brown, who makes it clear that financial control was part of the motive for this murder, without contextualising financial abuse as a form of coercive control. This is without the issue of Michael defining murder as ‘grubby’ and demanding his family punish Nicola’s family.

Where the Guardian truly failed was at the end of the article. They included the hotline phone number for the Samaritans (116 123, UK) but did not include the National Domestic Violence Hotline (0808 2000 247). The Samaritans media guidelines make it absolutely clear that the number should be included in any media coverage of suicide, but this was not just a case of suicide. Michael Beck clearly had a history of domestic violence and this was a murder where coercive control was a defining factor as Michael felt justified in killing Nicola because she tried to escape his abuse. The feminist organisation Zero Tolerance have written a comprehensive media guideline for reporting violence against women and girls that require the inclusion of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Granted, Zero Tolerance’s guidelines are 42 pages long, however the The National Union of Journalists have written a 3 page media guideline on reporting violence against women and girls for those journalists unwilling to take out 15 minutes of their day to do some basic research. The NUJ make it very clear that it is essential to include the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The question is: why did The Guardian prioritise the Samaritans hotline? And, why did they fail to recognise that this murder was a consequence of male entitlement and coercive control? When will mainstream media start to recognise that murder-suicides are almost always a consequence of domestic violence? That victims of domestic violence matter as much as people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts? That men who kill their children and/or current or former partners are not victims but perpetrators? Because the failure to include the National Domestic Violence Hotline implies that Michael is more deserving of respect and empathy than his victim. And, this is not an aberration but part of the conducive context in which male violence occurs and part of the continuum of violence against women and girls.

Nicola deserved better from The Guardian.

This was first published by Everyday Victim Blaming on August 27, 217.

Raising Useless Children – A disaster of Helicopter Parenting.

My eldest daughter’s first year of secondary school included a residential outdoor education trip. She had already been on one in primary school at a similar centre so I wasn’t going to bother attending the parent’s information meeting. Until she came home with not only a list of things required to take but skills needed to be allowed on the trip, including:

  • Being able to butter her own toast
  • Cut up dinner
  • Pour herself a drink without spilling
  • Getting dressed by herself
  • Brushing her own teeth.

As with all comprehensive schools in Scotland, integration for students with additional support needs was policy (although these children never get the actual level of support required due to systemic underfunding). The school also had a unit attached for students with autism who may find a full day too difficult. I assumed that my daughter had collected the wrong form and that the list was to double check children’s support needs in order to ensure the appropriate level of staffing to ensure that all children could attend. I went along to the information meeting assuming it would be a waste of my time (since I’d sat through a similar one the year before).

I was wrong.

My daughter had indeed brought home the right letter. And, the list above: for children without any additional support needs.

According to the head teacher, every single year at least one or two children attended who couldn’t do some or all of the above for themselves, because their parents did everything for them. The children, age 11-12, were all boys.

I was utterly boggled at the idea that a 12 year old couldn’t pour themselves a glass of juice. It’s a skill I assumed most kids had perfected at nursery level with the ubiquitous sand and water table. But, no. There are genuinely 12 year old boys who have never had to butter their own toast. Whilst my eyebrows were attached to the ceiling, this did, at least, explain the number of 8 year old boys in women’s change rooms at the pool – not for reasons of safety, but because they couldn’t dry themselves with a towel. Having never tried. Quite how schools cope with this particular group of children during upper primary swimming lessons is beyond me. I’d be tempted to go with: if you can’t use a towel, you can’t go swimming, obviously for only those children who should have needed no support.

I’ve been banging on about this for a decade now, mostly on Mumsnet where very few parents of girls were surprised by the level of learned helplessness. Especially those who hung out on the relationships board full of women needing help to get their husbands to put their own dishes in the dishwasher or dirty pants in the laundry. Husbands who assumed their job and penis prevented them from actually being required to not be an asshole. Even if the wife worked full time and they had 6 kids. She was required to come home and do another full day’s work. He got to do his ‘hobby’,  which is code for being an asshat. Inevitably, some handmaiden would rock up to say that insisting your partner is capable of operating the washing machine was awful because their husbands do nothing and a dude capable of putting dirty pants in the laundry was the baseline for awesome men. This would be men who can operate satellite TV, Netflix, and google. But incapable of working out the clearly labelled on button on a washing machine or dishwasher.  After more than a decade on Mumsnet, I’ve come to believe that we’ve raised a generation of young men more entitled, selfish and mean-spirited than their own fathers who, in the 1970s, at least pretended to be acquainted with kitchen equipment.

Despite all of the above and many, many years in playgroups listening to women whose husbands were utterly useless as human beings, I was still shocked by Saskia Sarginson’s recent Guardian column on her utterly pathetic adult children who still live at home and can’t work out how to use a litter box. Children who apparently pay no rent or buy any food. Or, feed a cat without whining to Mummy and Daddy about their siblings.

I’m hoping the column is all exaggeration and hyperbole, but, frankly, I expect its completely true. After all, when my eldest started uni a few years ago and lived in halls for first year, helicopter parenting continued. The students were only expected to clear after themselves in the kitchen and take out the bin. There were cleaning staff who vacuumed , cleaned the bathrooms, and a deep clean of the kitchen. Several students in her halls had parents come up on the weekend to help their children clean their rooms and do the very few chores expected of them. And not parents who lived round the corner. Quite frankly, global warning would decrease significantly if these parents stayed at home instead of driving 6 hours in an SUV to do their kid’s laundry.

My daughter did suggest I come down to ‘help’. There was much hysterical laughter on my side. I did get a drunken phone call a few weeks later to the effect of ‘you know all the times I thought you were horrible making me do stuff. I was wrong. Thank you for ensuring I’m not an idiot’. Obviously, this particular call has since been denied. And, there was definitely no retracting of me being horrible in other ways than forcing her to clean the cat litter, learn to cook and take out the recycling.

I’m not suggesting I’m a perfect parent. We could be here for days if my eldest was going to list my failings. The youngest, now responsible for cleaning the cat litter, has an excellent side eye for moments of parental unacceptability. However, the best part of having an adult child is watching them live their lives capable of dealing with crap, both literally and figuratively, without falling apart or requiring their mother come every few weeks to help with laundry. Granted, I would prefer mine not to be on the other side of the planet, but she’s having a brilliant time and that’s what matters most. Even if I’m insanely jealous of the weather and an affordable public transport system.

As for Sarginson’s children who have somehow become adults with zero life skills, well I feel sorry for them. Being forced to live with your parents whilst an adult because your wages don’t cover rent and food at the same time is the consequence of a malicious government and unfettered capitalism. Living with your parents because you are incapable of operating a washing machine or feeding the cat is a consequence of piss-poor parenting. It’s not funny or something to brag about. We need to start addressing this type of learned helplessness and infantilisation as harmful to children. Whilst child abuse is completely inappropriate here as a term, raising a child who cannot care for themselves is more than just raising entitled lazy brats. Its unfair and cruel to expect a child who has never once washed a dish, or buttered their own toast, to be an actual functioning adult.

What happens when these children try to live with long-term partners? Have children? Or, after their parents die? Will they even be capable of maintaining a long-term relationship if they’ve been raised to believe that others will always pick up the tab and do all the wifework? That you are so important that basic life skills are unimportant and mean. What will Sarginson’s kids be like in 5 years? Because my assumption would be unhappy.

There is a huge gulf between a 12 year old who can’t butter their own toast and an adult who can’t care for the cat for 2 days, but both are predicated on the desire of the parents to be ‘needed’ at the expense of the emotional and physical wellbeing of their children. And, in this case, publicly humiliating children for a couple of bucks from the Guardian.

Sarginson, and her, partner have reared 3 children who have no understanding of reality. Parenting is the least glamorous job in the world and women are held responsible for the majority of child rearing. Fucking up is normal because no one is perfect. However, 3 adult children who never pay rent or buy groceries who can’t be left alone for a weekend without whining and carrying on isn’t funny. It’s utterly pathetic.

 

Bibliography

Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender, (Icon Books, 2010)

Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the myths of our gendered minds, (Icon Books, 2017)

Arlene Hochschild, The Second Shift, (Penguin Books, 2003)

Susan Maushart, The Mask of Motherhood, (Penguin Books, 1999)

Susan Maushart. Wifework: Men get one thing marriage that women never do -wives, (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2002)

 

 

Lisa Hilton’s Athenais: When spite is mistaken for women’s history

I came across this book in a charity shop. I’m glad it only cost 50p, otherwise I’d have to write to the publisher demanding my money back for mis-selling a deeply spiteful text as a “biography” of Athenais, mistress of King Louis XIV of France.

Whilst the premise is ostensibly biographical, it’s mostly a treatise on how ugly women deserve to be treated like pieces of shit. And, any man who cheats on his ‘ugly’ wife has every right to; especially if you are the King of France and like pretty things. Then you get to be as abusive, cruel, and selfish as you like. You can humiliate and insult your wife, pretend she doesn’t’ exist, and still be considered a good guy, Because, hey, you’re the king, And, even the ugliest guy doesn’t deserve an ugly wife. Even if they are violent and hateful and cruel.

Even Athenais is dismissed as irrelevant once she stops being beautiful. Her beauty gone because she got fat. After giving birth to 9 children and being in a relationship with a man who forced all of those around him to eat too much.

Below are three images of the snide way in which women are treated. Hilton’s misogyny was accompanied by the usual classism and racism, but I have just picked examples of her loathing of women.

Here we have the theory that Queen Marie-Therese was so ugly that King Louis XIV was required to cheat on her repeatedly.

The Dauphin’s choice of an ‘ugly’ woman was clearly because he was insane. As no proper king would choose such an ugly woman (except, obviously, his father who was also trapped in a marriage with an ugly woman). 

And, women are stupid. Therefore, completely deserving of being described as hysterical.

No one should bother reading this book, and I am now stuck between burning the copy I have, keeping it so no one else is forced to read it, or returning it to the charity shop I bought it from.

Burning it is my current default position.

Zadie Smith: why the focus on make-up ignores the massive elephant in the room

I was fortunate enough to get tickets to see Zadie Smith at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year, which is why I know the “Zadie Smith banned her daughter from wearing make-up” is utter bollocks. Quite how the person who spread this rumour managed to understand Smith’s comment as a ban is mind-boggling. I’m veering between two options: a) they are on the wrong side of dim; b) deliberately propagated this for click bait.

It is incredibly disappointing to see media who claim to be feminist calling out Smith without investigating the context in which Smith referred to make-up. She did not “ban’ her daughter from wearing make-up.  The statement below was in response to a question from the about raising children within the harmful culture of patriarchal standards that hold girls to unrealistic expectations of beauty. Smith used the issue of time as a way to explain to her daughter, in age appropriate language, how patriarchal standards negatively impact girls’ lives.

This article from Feministing very good on ‘choice’ feminism and patriarchy:

… Makeup cannot be beyond the realm of criticism just because we enjoy it and it makes us feel good. There are social contexts and structures which contribute to why we enjoy it and why it makes us feel good. Our existence in a misogynistic society operates in complex ways: we can subvert and reappropriate the tools of our oppression, but we cannot completely erase the patriarchal conditions of our existence through our own choices and enjoyment.

To lambaste Zadie Smith for expressing worry that her daughter could be forced to care about things that her son won’t be compelled to care about — things that could affect her self-worth, her spending, and her assessment of herself — is to fall into an uncritical and complicit liberal feminism. We can, and must, pass on a feminism that more rigorously interrogates systems (and does not see this critique as an attack on individuals) to the next generation of young people who will need it to navigate a sexist world. …

What seriously pisses me off about the attacks on Smith are that all of this media coverage has erased the real problem: white privilege.

The chair of the sessions was critic Stuart Kelly, who I had not heard of before this. I had a raised eyebrow early in the session due to some of Kelly’s questions, which were on the wrong side of pompous. This is without the multiple references to his involvement with the Man Booker prize. I left the session under the impression that Kelly had been both a judge and the organising committee for a number of years. Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, says no.

Kelly lost all credibility when he stated that the focus on choosing ‘quality’ books for major literary awards will, eventually, lead to ‘equality’; that focusing on gender, race, or class is not necessary. Quite how long he expected this transformation to take considering millennia of oppression experienced by those not privileged enough to have been born white, rich and male.

I’m also pretty certain he’s been practising that statement in front of the bathroom mirror because he looked incredibly pleased with himself for sneaking it in. Because he was a judge at the Man Booker prize one year. After a deer in the headlights moment when he realised no one was going to give him cookies for being awesome, Kelly opened the session up to questions from the audience; a number of which were more white people’s feelings than recognising Smith’s discussions of race, class and gender.

Granted, a number of questions from the audience weren’t exactly quintessential examples of intersectionality at play, but the focus on Smith’s words around make-up and raising girls in a culture which considers beauty more important than intelligence is sexism. I would love to see feminist press targeting Kelly’s refusal to understand how multiple oppressions prevent people from accessing publishers; never mind how books are chosen for literary awards. Instead, they’ve gone for shaming Smith for trying to raise a daughter who recognises the structural oppressions within a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Sharing images of ‘missing children’: the problems of violent fathers and spiteful trolls

Within hours of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, people across social media were sharing images of those who were declared missing. Some of these were shared by family and friends who knew girls and women attending the concert, but who had not yet heard whether they were safe. These images were also being shared by those wanting to help – a desire borne out of genuine kindness. Unfortunately, by early Tuesday morning, media were already reporting that some of the images being shared were of people who were not at the concert. One of the first images we saw when we logged on to Twitter was of Nasar Ahmed, who died in November from an asthma attack at school. We immediately tweeted out asking people not to share images of children declared missing unless they knew that the source is real. At that point, we didn’t know the scale of the spiteful and cruel trolling. Then we were informed that another image being shared was of Jayden Parkinson who was murdered in 2013 by her boyfriend, who had a history of domestic violence. In the end, multiple false images were being shared; many of which originated from a thread on reddit where men were encouraging each other to deliberately and maliciously harm the families and friends of victims with ‘fake news’.

Male violence doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The toxic hyper-masculinity, which results in suicide bombers targeting young girls attending a concert in Manchester, the mass sexualised violence of children, and the proliferation of violent pornography is also responsible for the so-called ‘trolling’ of victims of male violence. Terrorists, like rapists and domestic violence perpetrators, depend on the support of these men to increase the carnage and fear. Whilst we’re quite sure that these ‘trolls’, who deliberately shared misleading images will have absolute tantrums about being compared to the supporters of Daesh, they are part of the same conducive context of violence against women and girls that allows male violence and toxic masculinity to flourish.

This is the reality of male violence in the global context: men believing they have the right to commit violence against the bodies of women and children; men believing they are entitled to control women and children; and men thinking it is hilarious to maliciously target traumatised victims and their families.

There is another reason to be careful when sharing images of ‘missing children’ online, which is also due to male violence. In this case, it is men who are perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse.The most dangerous time for women is when they leave a controlling or violent partner. It is this time period which sees an increase in the intensity of violence, such as that requiring medical treatment, but also murder: of the woman, a mother with her children, or the children to ‘punish’ the mother. Violent fathers denied access to their children have been creating fake ‘missing children’ notices for years, relying on the kindness of strangers on social media to stalk former partners and children.

It is essential to ensure that images of ‘missing children’ come from a reliable source: a family member or police in order to prevent violent men finding victims of their violence and, now, preventing so-called ‘trolls’ for targeting victims of terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, due to institutionalised racism and misogyny, police forces don’t always recognise missing children as ‘missing’. BAME children are far more likely to be deemed ‘runaways’ and, therefore, not worth ‘wasting’ police time in searching for them. Mainstream media are equally culpable and are far more likely to share images of white children who are missing. Sometimes social media is the only place actively searching for these children. If a missing child image does not come from a reliable source, you can reverse image research to find the origins of the photo.

In a just and fair world, all missing children would be deemed equally important. Mainstream media would give as much attention to a missing 14-year-old Black boy from London as they do a 13-year-old white girl from Surrey. The police would have appropriate resources to find children and support them – after all, children who do run away from home do so for a reason. Sometimes home is the least safe space for a child. Children, and their mothers, would be able to live free of violence, or the threat therein. Perpetrators would be held accountable for their actions and choices. Family courts would ban violent fathers from using them to continue controlling their former partners. Child contact would be deemed in the best interest of the child based on peer-reviewed research, which clearly shows that children do better without being forced to visit violent fathers.

We don’t live in a just world though. And, until then, we need to take care on social media to ensure that the children labelled missing are actually missing. We need to hold the mainstream media and police to account when they fail to investigate and report on missing BAME children. It is a delicate balance that no one will not always get right every time, because it is hard to believe just how spiteful and malicious online ‘trolls’ are. They depend on our compassion for others, which is why we need to hold the men who posted false images of ‘missing children’ legally culpable, as well as those who commit terrorist attacks. Sharing fake images of ‘missing’ children is a heinous act and it is part of the continuum of violence against women and girls. We need to eradicate all forms and this starts with insisting that spiteful and malicious ‘trolling’ of the victims of violence is a serious criminal act so that no other family has to go through what happened to those impacted by the Manchester bombing: as victims themselves or families like those of Ahmed and Parkinson.

 

First published at Everyday Victim Blaming on 7.6.2017

Voting Labour; even if your local candidate is a bit of a buckethead

My local labour candidate is a nincompoop. As 30 seconds perusing Gordon Munro’s election pamphlet would demonstrate. Not only does he include a rather unnecessary amount of information about his history of swimming and water polo at our local pool, he’s also included a huge photo of himself with George Clooney. Quite why no one questioned the relevance of that photo is anyone’s guess. It is not the worst election pamphlet I’ve seen this time. That honour goes to a UKIP candidate who is strangely obsessed with the types of metal used in a Robin Hood statue.

I’ve been involved in local community organisations in Leith for over a decade. It’s safe to say Munro’s questionable tendencies predate his photo op with Clooney. Munro is fairly well-known for supporting projects that increase his prestige and power – such as his insistence that the Duncan Place Resource Centre closure due to the building being condemned following years of council mismanagement isn’t really a big deal. And, that the programs offered by the DPRC could be transferred easily to the Leith Community Centre, despite it being a third of the size and involving only halls rather than community education classrooms and other specialist facilities. 3 guesses which community centre board Gordon Munro has been involved with over the years.

For years, I’ve been saying that I only voted for Munro because my former Labour MSP, Malcolm Chisholm, could be trusted to squash Munro’s more eyebrow raising decisions. Chisholm retired at the last Scottish Parliament election and was replaced by a male SNP MSP who looks about 12 and has zero understanding of male violence (or even what his own parties policies were on this prior to the election). Since a write-in campaign to have Chisholm elected Prime Minister against his will isn’t an appropriate response to destroying the Tory party, I will be voting for Gordon Munro. I fully intend to be as big a pain in his arse when he’s an MP as he was as a local councillor, even though I appear to be permanently off his Christmas card list now.

I’m voting labour because I’m a single mother with 2 children, an obscene amount of university debt, and a disability that has severely curtailed my ability to work, even part time. Gordon Munro might not be my favourite politician, but neither are my other local councillors Chaz Booth (Green) and Adam McVey (SNP). I do trust Munro on a number of issues that are important to me and I’m perfectly content to spend the next 5 years campaigning to ensure that Munro changes his stance on other policies (provision of community centres, massive investment in the crumbling fabric of school buildings, 3 block radius ban on parking near schools for non-residents, the banning of all men from driving cars in my neighbourhood).

I’m voting Labour because:

I’m also a fan of Labour’s leaked policy expanding abortion rights to women living in Northern Ireland. I’d like them to go even further to remove the “2 doctor mental health’ rule for women accessing abortion in England and Wales (Scotland will be reviewing the rule during his parliament).

I’m going to campaign for Labour to do the following over the next few years:

  • Ban Trident
  • Stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia
  • Recognise that the child poverty is due to fathers refusing to pay maintenance, which is a form of child abuse
  • Ring fenced massive investment in schools
  • Ring fenced massive investments in the NHS
  • Ring fenced massive investment in community care
  • Fundamental changes to family courts and child access that recognise that viewing domestic violence against a mother is also child abuse. Children have the right to live free from exposure to violence and that includes violence perpetrated by their fathers
  • Higher corporation taxes
  • More post-secondary training programs for young people
  • End to housing refugees in detention centres (and increasing financial support for asylum seekers)
  • End to charitable status for private schools.
  • Expansion of right to vote to all 16 year olds.

 

I’m voting Labour because we cannot afford another 5 years of Tory rule. Too many people have already died because of Tory policy. My local Labour candidate might make me roll my eyes on a daily basis, but he isn’t creating policies that force people into poverty or supporting polices that actively kill people. Perfection is a goal, not a reality in politics. And, right now, we need a labour government more than ever, regardless of whether or not you actively like your local candidate or if you loathe Jeremy Corbyn.

We need a labour government now more than ever.

Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow conference

This is the speech I had written for the Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow in May 2014. I didn’t actually say what I had written. Instead, I spoke specifically to male violence as a silencing tactic and erasure of women’s work because of male violence.

I want to thank every single woman who has supported AROOO since our inception. I never thought this network would be as successful as it so thank you.

Founding A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network

 

Male domination of speech, both in public and private, has been well proven in research for thirty years now.Margaret Atwood wrote about men dominating classrooms in early 1980s. Dale Spender wrote about it in The Writing or the Sex? in 1989.[1] There have been countless studies in education and within the workplace that demonstrate the silencing of women’s voices within the presence of men. Recently, the largest global study on violence against women found that it was the feminist movement that had the biggest impact on tackling the issue; much of this was accomplished with women-only spaces. Dworkin’s famous passage from her seminal text Intercourse is truer now than when she wrote it:

“Men often react to women’s words – speaking and writing – as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper, Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men – control, violence, insult, contempt – that no threat seems empty.”[2]

I have been online for nearly 20 years and the abuse of women online has gotten worse. The misogynistic attacks on feminists like Caroline Criado-Perez and the racist/ misogynist abuse directed at women of colour[3] make it very clear that online spaces are not safe for women. In many ways, Dworkin’s words are an understatement of what occurs online. Men’s reactions to women’s words has become more violent, more hateful, in many ways, more socially acceptable.Women can’t hear one another when we’re forced to plough through thousands of threats of rape, torture and death in online spaces. We lock our twitter accounts, censor ourselves and hope we don’t become the next target. We don’t need a threat to be directed at us personally to act as a silencing tactic.

The media explosion in the winter of 2013 on so-called “twitter wars” was the final impetus to the founding.The level of misogyny directed at women by male media for the crime of disagreeing with one another was simply unbearable. Much of what is dismissed as ‘twitter wars’ is marginalised women seeking recognition of the multiple oppressions within their lives. Dismissing these concerns as ‘twitter wars’ is a new patriarchal silencing tactic. The recognition of intersectionality is absolutely vital to the future of the feminist/womanist movements.we do need to acknowledge that women internalise misogyny and these traumas do impact on how women interacts with each other. Considering the trauma of being raised female in a racist, disablist, lesbophobic culture where male violence against women and girls is the norm, it’s hardly shocking that many women have internalised the woman-hating messages and lash out at each other. After all, lashing out at other women is unlikely to result in you dying which is a realistic fear of calling out men.

Rather, it was the assumption, mostly from men, that disagreements on activism and theory within the feminist movement were a sign of hysterical women incapable of rational thought. In my anger, A Room of our own was born. It is a women-only space both in terms of preventing men from joining the network but also actively preventing them from joining in conversations via comments and on twitter and Facebook. I started from the expectation that members will have fundamentally different definitions of feminism/ womanism and that these differences are worth exploring, debating and celebrating.

AROOO does have members with very strong opinions on issues like prostitution and pornography but we are also one of the only online spaces where radical feminists and pro-sex industry feminists share a platform. It’s for women new to feminism and womanism and for those who kick started what is commonly referred to as the Second Wave. I work very hard to keep it a safe space in face of quite intensive abuse and whining from me. Our youngest member is only 10 years old, and writes as Sexism in Schools. Giving her a feminist platform where disagreement, debate and discussion are encouraged and not dismissed as hysterical, irrational women fells really powerful. I want feminists and womanists, new and old, to experience the same. Many of our members have disabilities which prevent them from accessing ‘real life’ feminist activism or caring responsibilities that means they are trapped in the house. Online feminist spaces are essential for these women’s participation but also their mental health.

I do get a lot of complaints about alienating men, hurting their feelings and demands that we include men lest we be viewed as man-haters. Apparently, men can’t learn about women unless we expend our energy teaching them. Frankly, any man who can’t work out how to google isn’t someone I want to waste my time on. It also isn’t women’s responsibility to ensure that men never feel excluded. After all, very few men spend any time actually considering the exclusion and erasure of women.

More importantly, men spend vast amounts of time online policing women’s conversations and even the language we use. Men don’t spend vast amounts of time policing other men, even those making threats of violence. Women-only spaces remain fundamental to the success of feminism as a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women. Women need a space to discuss and debate issues without having to worry about male violence. The violent threats of rape and death are daily and most men don’t bother to challenge it. Instead, they pretend its some other man over there when we all know its not some random man on the internet. It’s actually most of them -either engaging in violence themselves or pretending it doesn’t exist.

The only way to stop the silencing of women is to uninvite men and that’s the lesson men need to take from this. If they insist on attending, whose voices are they really silencing?

[1] Dale Spender (http://dalespender.com.au)

[2] Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, (http://radfem.org/dworkin/)

[3] I have chosen only to name Caroline Criado-Perez here because two people have been convicted of abusing her via twitter. Women of colour experience misogynistic and racist abuse daily on twitter and neither twitter nor the police seem all that concerned about these attacks. As their names are not publicly known via press coverage, I will leave them unnamed to protect their anonymity. Criado-Perez has waved her anonymity in press coverage of her abuse.

[4] Bidisha’s personal blog: http://bidisha-online.blogspot.co.uk

[5] A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network (http://www.aroomofourown.org)

(Re) Writing Reality: Voices from the front lines of Male Violence

EVB Press is seeking submissions for an edited anthology:

(Re) Writing Reality: Voices from the front lines of Male Violence

Edited by Louise Pennington

Deadline for Abstracts: August 14,  2017

The purpose of this collection is to explore the intersections between the reality of women’s experiences of male violence and the representations of male violence in the media and in policies developed at the local, national and international level, through governments, non-governmental organisations and grassroots activism. We are interested in the personal and cultural impacts of male violence explored through theory, activism, campaigns, and reality of living with and the consequences of male violence.

We encourage submissions of scholarly works, personal testimonies of male violence, and creative works. As such, we welcome submissions from researchers, students, activists, artists, mothers, children, victims, survivors and human rights campaigners.

Topics include the experience of male violence through: domestic violence and abuse, sexual violence and abuse,fatal male violence, rape, rape culture, stalking, harassment, street harassment, child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation, financial abuse, emotional abuse, torture, criminal justice system, mothering and male violence, perpetrators, feminist theory, feminist activism, genocide, human rights abuses, rape in war, rape as an act of genocide, racism, intersectionality, globalisation, colonialism, post-colonialism, imperialism, military-industrial complex, capitalism, environment, homophobia and lesbophobia, classism, disablism and ablism, poverty, art, music, television, movies, pornography, objectification, reproductive justice, women’s rights, women’s liberation, so-called revenge porn, popular culture, media representation, government policy, the welfare state and austerity measures.

Submission Guidelines:

Abstracts: Please send a 250-word description of the proposed paper, including a tentative title to louisepennington@hotmail.co.uk. Along with this, please include a 50-100 word biography and your full contact information, including blogs and social media.

Deadline for abstracts is February 1 2017

Full Manuscripts: Please ensure that the manuscript conforms to Chicago style, and is 15-20 pages (double-spaced) in length. Final acceptance of the manuscript for inclusion in the collection rests upon its fit with the rest.

Deadline for full manuscripts is October 21.  2017

To Submit: Please direct all submissions and inquiries to Louise Pennington at louisepennington@hotmail.co.uk

The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism.

This is Part One of a series responding to the issues around transgenderism and the media representations therein.

 When my daughter was 3 she decided she wanted to be a mermaid for the ability to swim underwater. This lasted until she realised that mermaids do two things: swim and brush their hair. Understandably, this was deemed too boring. So, she became a mermaid superhero, which combined awesome swimming skills (and potentially a visit to Atlantis) with the ability to fly and read minds (and ignore her mother). Eventually this became a superhero mermaid rock star since I, in a moment of extreme unreasonableness, refused to let her dye her hair bright blue. (She decided her way around this was to become the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the band could veto my no blue hair rule, but that’s a whole different story).

My daughter no longer wants to be a mermaid or a rock star. She still loves superheroes and we spend a lot of time in comic book stores and at Comic Cons. She also has short hair. Despite clearly being a girl, at a recent Comic Con she was referred to as a boy because she chose to attend as a male superhero. The fact that many of the traditional male superheroes, such as Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Green Lantern,  are being replaced by women was deemed irrelevant. GrantedIMG_7717 this had a lot to do with the extreme sexualisation of female superheroes and villains, as seen in the comic artist Frank Quitely exhibit at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. Quitely was involved in the changes to the X-men costumes to make them more ‘practical’, except for Emma Frost who is wearing platform boots and two tiny pieces of cloth covering her breasts.*IMG_7716

Whilst deeply annoying, the ‘misgendering’ of my daughter did raise some interesting questions on why men assumed a primary school child had to be a boy because her costume featured neither a tutu nor a corset. The teenage boys dressed as female superheroes were classed as ‘transgressive’. My daughter, however, had to be a boy.

I was reminded of this situation when the utterly dreadful Good Housekeeping article on a boy whose Conservative Christian parents decided he must be a transgirl went viral. This child was forcibly transitioned by his parents in response to their relatives suggested he might be gay because he liked to play with toys that were for ‘girls’:

“Shortly after Kai turned 2, friends and family were starting to notice her behavior. Living in Pearland, Texas, that meant we were getting a lot of sidelong glances and questions. Kai would only play with other girls and girls’ toys. She said boys were “gross.” Family members were flat-out asking me if this kid was gay. It made me nervous, and I was constantly worried about what people would think of me, of us and of my parenting. While family was questioning whether Kai was gay ….”

Kai’s parents were so horrified by a son who like to wear bright dress up clothes that they decided he must be a girl.  This poor child has to contend with homophobic parents more concerned about appearances than raising an emotionally healthy child with a wide range of interests.

The correct response to such homophobic comments from family and friends should be to remove them from your child’s life (and deal with your own homophobia). Yet, these parents were feted by Good Housekeeping for transitioning a child to cover up their homophobia. Because having a gay child is the worst possible thing than raising a son who plays with toys traditionally assigned to girls and who may be gay (or, you know, just a kid who likes playing with toys). We are expected to celebrate these parents for their homophobia and for caring more about the neighbours than their own child.

This Good Housekeeping article encompasses all of my fears about the ways in which the construction of the Trans narrative is both deeply conservative and harmful to children.** Rather than recognizing the ways in which gender stereotypes create a hierarchy of male/ femaleand the decades of feminist research into the negative consequences this has for girls, we have, once again, arrived at a point where gender is deemed a binary with children unable to be just children. So, my superhero loving daughter, who only reads comics featuring female superheroes and villains, is being defined as male by so-called leftist people, who cannot conceive of women outside of a hyper-sexualised, violent pornographied object and by right-wing religious fundamentalists who believe women are inferior to men. It is not unsurprising that an Islamic fundamentalist country like Iran forcibly transitions people with the other option being death. The story of Kai demonstrates a similar trend in fundamentalist Christian communities in the US – the isolation and shaming of gay and lesbian children within these communities is well-documented and is responsible for the self-harming and suicides of far too many children.

I cannot see anything liberating about forcing children into categories of boy/girl based solely on whether or not they like trains or tutus – and all the subsequent medical interventions – or the entirety of the bigender/agender/ genderqueer constructions that continue to reify the sex based hierarchy rather than challenging them. Certainly, the recent article in the New York Times entitled “My daughter is not Trans, she’s a tomboy” still supports the theory that ‘girls’, unless they do ‘boy stuff’ are not as good as being born male. Girls who play with Barbies are bad and girls who climb trees are good is an asinine narrative that punishes children for trying to learn who they are within a culture that punishes children who try to conform or challenge the gendered patriarchal constructs of  masculine/ feminine.

Labelling children transgender at the age of 2 is a conservative and reactionary response to the questioning of gender. It is inherently homophobic and it fails to challenge the neoliberal discourse of ‘choice’ which depoliticises liberation politics and renders any discussion of class-based politics as ‘hateful’. As a radical feminist, I want nothing less than the full liberation of all women from the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.  This includes recognising that gender is not a performance or an ‘identity’. It is nothing more than the systemic social, cultural and physical oppression of women’s bodies, predicated on women’s reproductive, sexual and caring labour, which does nothing more than a reinforce a hierarchy of man/woman.

*Thank you to Claire Heuchan who pointed out this part of the exhibit to me.

** Part two is a discussion of the medical establishment and the transitioning of children.

Suggested Reading:

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, (London,2010).

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of our Gendered Minds, (UK, 2017)

Glosswitch, ‘Our culture dehumanises women by reducing them all to breeders and non-breeders‘, (New Statesman, 2014)

Claire Heuchan, “Sex, Gender and the New EssentialismSister Outrider, (7.2.2017).

Claire Heuchan, Lezbehonest about Queer Politics Erasing Lesbian WomenSister Outrider, (15.3.2017).

.Claire Heuchan, The Problem that has no name because women is too “essentialist”Sister Outrider, (22.2.2017).

bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, (UK, 2000)

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.), Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism, (Australia, 2015)

Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press, 1986)

Peggy Ornstein, Girls & Sex, (Great Britain, 2016), see pgs 160-165

PurpleSage, The Relentless Tide of Sex Stereotypes, (20.5.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, “Gender is not a spectrum”Aeon, (28.6.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, What I believe about Sex & GenderMore Radical with Age, (2015)

Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (London, 2001)

 

Thank you: on train stations, sea lions, and gratitude

Several years ago, I took my daughter to a feminist conference in Newcastle. We had a lovely time. Right up until the very last minute. We were booked on the last train home on the Sunday night. Unfortunately, there was a huge kerfuffle due to an error on the notice boards, which had the last train to London and the last train to Edinburgh leaving at the same time from the same platform. Mistakes happen, but people were very stressed and there was a lot of pushing and shoving from adults. A little girl, no more than 5, standing to the right of me was pushed off the platform under the train that had pulled up. It was one of those moments where time stood still. Every second felt like a million minutes. I froze. The man, who was directly behind my daughter and better in a crisis, knocked my daughter over so he could grab the little girl.

He saved her life.

He also apologised to me for knocking my daughter over.

I caught the apology as I was dealing with my daughter who was in distress. I hope I said something along the lines of ‘don’t worry’ or thank you. I can’t guarantee it though as I was trying to get my kid, our luggage, and help the other mother with her luggage onto the train. I don’t remember if she said thank you to him either. She definitely said thank you once we were all on the train, but the man who saved the little girl wasn’t in the carriage and everyone who was told her not to apologise.

Usually, this memory only comes up when we’re at the Newcastle train station and my travel anxiety levels explode. What kicked off the memory this time is an incident in Canada where a little girl was pulled off a dock by a seal lion. There is some debate as to who was responsible: the child’s guardians for letting her get to close to a wild animal or the people who were feeding the sea lions (which may or may not have been a family member of the little girl). What caught my eye was a media article that quoted a complaint from an eye witness who claimed that the family members didn’t thank those who intervened to rescue the little girl, which seemed rather beside the point. Granted, this could be the media making a mountain out of a molehill or deliberately misrepresenting a comment. Equally, this statement could have been from an eyewitness in shock babbling – certainly it’s the kind of babble I have come out with in difficult situations where my mouth bypasses my brain. And, obviously, it would have been good if the family had said thank you, but none of us really know how we would act in an emergency. Would we rush into help? Phone an ambulance? Provide emergency first aid? Panic?

When did our cultural empathy get permanently lost? – that we worry more about the performance of good manners than actually being kind.Why do we refuse to recognise how different people react to trauma?Why don’t we accept that it’s okay to be so distraught in a moment that we don’t see what is happening in our immediate vicinity; that there is nothing wrong with focusing on an injured, frightened, and wet child to the detriment of having ‘good’ manners. I suspect my reaction would be similar to the family, who left immediately with the child. Because I would be embarrassed and my anxiety response to everything is to hide. Having been severely bullied at school for years and dealing with an emotionally abusive stepparent, I know my trauma reactions in difficult situations (and that feeling in my stomach writing that down). I know that some people have lived lives free from such issues have different reactions. I’m just not sure how we’ve arrived at a place where the performance of perfection is more important than giving people the space to process events.

If this story is as stated in the media and you agree with the bystander’s main complaint that a frightened person should have expressed sufficient gratitude, you probably want to review your priorities. A little bit of kindness goes a long way.